Ramaphosa warns vaccine hoarding hampers global fight against Covid-19

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President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: GCIS)
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: GCIS)
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa once again warned the hoarding of vaccines by richer countries would not help in the global fight against Covid-19. 
  • Ramaphosa and several other African and world leaders were addressing the Friends of Multilateralism's roundtable on the work of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.
  • Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, who chaired the discussion, said a lot of time was wasted in the early response to Covid-19 with the hoarding of information and a "laborious exchange of official emails and letters".

Covid-19 cannot be overcome as long as richer countries hoard vaccines, President Cyril Ramaphosa told a forum discussing ways to improve international preparedness for pandemics on Tuesday.

"The pandemic has highlighted the need for partnership but demonstrated the damaging effect of unilateralism and the withholding of access to resources, life-saving resources," Ramaphosa said.

He told the Friends of Multilateralism's roundtable on the work of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response during a Zoom forum that "we cannot overcome this pandemic as long as richer countries have most of the world's supply of vaccines to the exclusion, but also more importantly, to the detriment of poorer countries".

READ | EXPLAINER: What is the state of SA’s vaccination drive?

Ramaphosa said in preparing for future pandemics, the world needed to "accelerate efforts to realise universal health coverage".

He added vaccines and life-saving treatments should be considered as public goods by the world.

Ramaphosa, who was African Union (AU) chairperson in 2020 when the pandemic caused worldwide lockdowns, said that was why the AU had resolved to support the call for a temporary TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) waiver of Covid-19 vaccine patents at the World Trade Organisation to allow developing nations faster and more equitable access to vaccines.

He supported a suggestion made by former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who spoke before him during the meeting, when she said there should be "an urgent implementation of voluntary licencing and technology transfer agreements".

If this did not happen, then a TRIPS waiver should "immediately be considered and acted upon", she added.

READ | Ayanda Dlodlo in Cape Town to test security at vaccination sites

Johnson Sirleaf, who had to cope with the Ebola pandemic in Liberia during her presidency, said the role of leaders was vital in pandemics "in conveying to populations that this is a life and death matter".

She added:

Uneven access to vaccines and vaccine nationalism are debilitating to the global response. Some countries have purchased enough to vaccinate their populations at least twice over. We recommend that the doses available be redistributed so that all countries can cover at least their high risk populations.

Johnson Sirleaf said new ways should be found to get funding for pandemic preparedness, and the panel recommended that, at the international level, a council should be set up consisting of heads of state to maintain pandemic preparedness and to do oversight over resource allocation and to look at legal frameworks.

Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, who chaired the discussion, said Covid-19 went from being a localised outbreak to a pandemic "because of a whole range of failures and gaps in pandemic preparedness and response".

READ | America is getting ready for its post pandemic glow-up

Most countries were not well-prepared, she added, despite years of prior warnings, and other countries questioned the science and downplayed the seriousness of the disease.

International rankings on pandemic preparedness have also been shown to be deficient, Clark said.

"Many of those who scored most highly on them have not had the best responses to Covid-19 and it seems that the rankings often fail to take into account the critical importance of political leadership and trust and also the importance of social cohesion."

A lot of time was wasted in the early response to Covid-19 with the hoarding of information and a "laborious exchange of official emails and letters", she added.

Investigations by the World Health Organisation on the virus were hindered, and not helped by the state of international health regulations.

"We see the World Health Organisation as not sufficiently empowered to investigate, to invalidate and to confirm a dangerous outbreak speedily," Clark said, adding even when the organisation declared the outbreak at the end of January, countries were too slow to react and a scramble for medical supplies eventually ensued, which lasted up to today.


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